Friday, February 23, 2024

WorldScreenings: Off the Fence

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Off the Fence breaks down its catalog into the categories of Yesterday, which features titles that dive back into the annals of history; Today, a collection of natural-history, impact, travel and relationships programming; and Tomorrow, an offering of science-focused content. The company, which has been in the factual production and distribution business for more than 27 years, is presently seeing an interest in its nonfiction titles across the genre spectrum.

In the history space, Off the Fence has on its slate the six-part series Royals: Keeping the Crown that uses colorized archives to chart the rise, fall and rebranding of royal families around the world and across the decades, from World War I to today. There’s also The Secrets to Civilisation, a three-parter that uses CGI and new science to provide a fresh perspective on the ancient world.

“Archaeology is still a big topic; anything in the history space that taps into the current day is hot property,” says Loren Baxter, head of acquisitions at Off the Fence. “History topics that blur into science and tell ***Image***us about our past in a fresh and contemporary way are doing well internationally.”

Off the Fence’s upcoming natural-history slate zeroes in on stories about the environment in addition to more traditional blue-chip wildlife shows. Presented by environmental photojournalist Aaron Gekoski and produced by Terra Mater Factual Studios, Eyes of the Orangutan investigates the darker side of the wildlife tourism industry. Also produced by Terra Mater Factual Studios, along with Red Rock Films International, the documentary Wolverine: One Tough Mother offers viewers a glimpse into the life of the eponymous species by following the journey of 3-year-old Freya. It is being produced for Smithsonian Channel and has been presold to ARTE, NRK and NHK.

The Stork Army: Women Fighting for the Hargila, from Gruppe 5, centers on a group of women in Southeast Asia who are fighting for the protection of the endangered greater adjutant stork, locally known as the hargila. A six-episode limited series, Voices of Earth spotlights 13 people who have preserved an ancestral pact to live among nature. Youth Unstoppable, WaterBear’s first original feature documentary, explores the youth climate movement. It is directed by Canadian filmmaker and climate activist Slater Jewell-Kemker.

“Nature and wildlife has really matured as a genre, and whilst pretty pictures of animals are still popular, we’ve found nature documentaries with strong narratives with unique access or solution-driven conservation are the big winners,” says Baxter. “We see a lot of feature docs doing well in this space, which plays into the need for a big story with beautiful visuals.”

In travel content, Off the Fence has on offer Italy Made with Love, which spotlights talented artisans across the region. Science titles on the slate include The Alternative Guide to Saving the Planet, produced by Infield Fly Productions and commissioned by CBC for its The Nature of Things documentary program series. Hosted and narrated by a yet-to-be-announced Hollywood actor, it will reveal surprising ways we can cut greenhouse gas emissions and help save the planet.

In relationships content, Off the Fence is continuing its close partnership with WE tv and is offering its newest reality series, Brat Loves Judy, following the relationship of rapper Da Brat and her multimillionaire CEO girlfriend, Jesseca “Judy” Dupart.

Up ahead for Off the Fence is the launch of a development slate featuring projects produced by the company as well as by other international production outfits. “OTF Originals will be pushing shows within its key content pillars of Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, including a new returnable series in the science and engineering space,” says Baxter. “OTF Studios has recently set up agreements with Red Rock Films International on a new returnable history and science hybrid series, as well as with Canadian production company Markham Street Films, where OTF Studios will look to raise financing for its diverse mix of content in the science, history and current affairs space.”

Off the Fence is also looking for partners for Fantastic Friends, produced by Dash Pictures. It follows James and Oliver Phelps, who played the mischievous but loveable Weasley twins from the Harry Potter franchise, on an adventure around the world to explore cities, meet guests and take on challenges. Additionally, the company is talking to broadcasters about Jagged Peak Films’ new feature documentary Lions, Bones & Bullets, in which author Richard Peirce investigates the lion farm trade in South Africa and sets out to explore what’s being done to stop it. Off the Fence has other key projects on its slate, to be announced shortly.

As the business of distribution has become more complex with proliferating digital offerings, a need has grown for programming that can draw in younger and more global audiences—while also retaining factual’s loyal linear viewers, according to Baxter. “This is where the blurring of genres has become exciting and why the need for familiar stories with new angles really remains strong,” she explains. “Logistically for a distributor and producer, we need to differentiate between what works for this new global streamer world and what works for a more traditional co-production linear model, where there will often be rights left to sell. As ever, we’re getting involved much earlier in projects in order to maintain business in territories where finished programs are less likely to be picked up in favor of co-productions or presales.”

Off the Fence credits its longevity in the business and the strength of the relationships it has built over the years for the confidence that international broadcasters and producers have in its ability to deliver results. “Having both production and distribution offices, we’re in a unique position to see the business from both sides, and as production and distribution becomes closer and closer, we’re already one step ahead,” says Baxter. “With our offices in North America, the U.K. and Europe, we’re able to tap into the very best financing opportunities to get productions across the line.”

Looking forward, the company has its sights set on solidifying its originals, studios and FAST business models. “We’re bringing some incredible series into the marketplace from a truly stellar range of producers,” says Baxter.

See Off the Fence’s Fall 2021 Showcase here.







About Chelsea Regan

Chelsea Regan is the managing editor of World Screen. She can be reached at cregan@worldscreen.com.
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WorldScreenings: Off the Fence

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A 360-degree factual content company, Off the Fence makes, acquires, localizes and distributes titles that cover a broad cross-section of nonfiction programming. With autumn and the corresponding market season—virtual or otherwise—upon us, the company has a catalog boasting fresh, compelling programming for keen buyers on the hunt for titles that can sate viewers’ healthy appetite for factual content.

“We’re a one-stop-shop for factual and factual-entertainment shows, which makes it easier for buyers to differentiate us from other companies, as we remain a specialist in this area,” says Loren Syer-Willoughby, head of acquisitions at Off the Fence. “Each of our new shows offers a unique perspective into familiar stories or features new groundbreaking science and natural phenomena. We work with some of the best production companies from all over the world—from France to Canada to the U.K. to Austria; no country or partner is off limits to us. We work with these amazing partners to craft and create the best version for international audiences.”

The advantages of being in the factual business are hard to overstate. More than stable, the demand for nonfiction content is enjoying an upward trajectory. “With advertising revenues and budgets on a decrease and factual content generally being more affordable, it’s certainly attractive to many clients, and even as a replacement for some scripted content,” says Stefanie Fischer, Off the Fence’s managing director of sales. “There is definitely a demand for family-friendly, feel-good shows—natural history for example. We’re also seeing a demand for content that is relevant to our day-to-day lives—like our new show Pass the Salt,which talks about the effect salt has on our bodies—but also aspiring content about conservation, sustainability and climate change.”

Among the new shows Off the Fence is launching this fall is a raft of titles from the Smithsonian Channel, including the one-off special The Blitz: Days That Changed WWII, the second season of Blink Films’ Mystic Britain and Space Disasters from Red Rock Films. Off the Fence is also representing titles from Terra Mater Factual Studios—America’s Arctic: A Refuge Imperilled and Okavango: River of Dreams—and a slate of lifestyle content from WE tv, including Beyond the Pole, which brings viewers into the world of strippers in Atlanta as they try to reach financial freedom. Working with Gravitas’ feature documentary library, Off the Fence is launching such new titles as Juice: How Electricity Explains the World from Electric Elephant Films and Humboldt: The New Season, directed by Kevin Eastwood and Lusca Frison.

Also in the catalog is a pair of history shows from Lion Television—Anne Boleyn: Arrest, Trial, Execution, a three-part co-production with Motion Content Group for Channel 5; and the one-off special Mongols: The Secret History Of, co-produced with Smithsonian Channel and ARTE. Another history show on Off the Fence’s slate is Titanic: Into the Heart of the Wreck, produced by Bleu Kobalt in France.

Natural-history documentaries Off the Fence is highlighting include the three-part series Costa Rica: The Rise of Nature from Bamboo Docs; Animal Social Networks, from Rotating Planet Productions; and the Off the Fence-produced three-part series Oceans Africa. In the science space, the company counts among its titles the aforementioned Pass the Salt, produced by Markham Street Films, and the Chanupa Media-produced A Plane to Save the Oceans, about how a Boeing 747 was plunged into the ocean just off the island nation of Bahrain and turned into a conservation marvel. Disruptive Nature, a ten-part series produced by CIC Media, explores some of the world’s worst natural disasters and the long-term effects often left undiscussed. Another season of The Fixers, from BYU TV and BCII, is also on offer from Off the Fence.

While the “new normal” brought about by the coronavirus pandemic forced changes in production protocols, it has also shifted how partnerships are secured and deals are inked on completed projects. And though in-person meetings remain the preferred way of doing business for Off the Fence, the company is finding the silver lining in digital-first dealmaking. “There’s nothing better than having that face-to-face connection with your clients, partners and friends at the usual markets and events,” says Fischer. “Zoom calls certainly cannot substitute this, but there are many benefits as well, including our ability to stretch those usual 70-plus MIP meetings over a longer period, taking enough time for each meeting, and also to be able to see everybody—even those who don’t usually attend the markets. I think it’s fair to say that since the lockdown we’ve actually seen our clients more! I think it’s great that the new norm is to hop on a video call rather than picking up the phone.”

And though the immediate future will likely call for continued flexibility and adaptability, Fischer is confident that those in factual stand to have an easier time rising to meet the challenges ahead. “Factual productions have a bigger advantage over scripted as they are easier and quicker to turn around,” she says. “As the delays of 2020 continue, we will see into 2021 that the need for finished programs will remain high. We’re also seeing an acceleration in the digital landscape, especially with AVOD, which is proving to be very exciting.”

Committed to distributing and producing high-quality and thought-provoking content, Off the Fence wants “broadcasters to rely on us to deliver factually correct, entertaining shows with good stories,” says Syer-Willoughby, who notes that Ellen Windemuth, co-CEO, created the company with passion and heart at its core. “Whether that’s caring about the planet or the people who live on it, it’s something that’s instilled in every employee here at Off the Fence; we really care about the programs we distribute,” adds Syer-Willoughby. “This, in turn, leads to increased sales activities and better client relationships, which is ultimately our most important mission.”

See Off the Fence’s Fall 2020 Showcase here.







About Chelsea Regan

Chelsea Regan is the managing editor of World Screen. She can be reached at cregan@worldscreen.com.
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